Ask a Freelancer: How Would You Rate Your Last Year as a Writer?By Nicole Dieker December 23rd, 2014
How would you rate your last year as a freelancer? And based on intuition and whatever you’ve read, how do you think the freelancing industry as a whole fared in the last year?
—Charlie Skinner’s Bow Tie
My last year as a freelancer has been extraordinary. I started 2014 working jobs that paid, at best, $25 an article and ended the year writing for higher-profile, higher-paying clients, including some who pay me $250 and $300 per piece. Best of all, many of my clients agreed to raise their payments in 2015.
What did I do to make this year so successful? It was a combination of luck, talent, and strategy. At the beginning of the year, I sent out a lot of pitches to online publications interested in receiving submissions from new voices. I often wrote the piece before I pitched it, because—well, as I wrote in an earlier Ask a Freelancer column: “I didn’t want an editor to have to guess whether or not I was a good writer. I wanted to include the proof right there in the pitch and let the editor know exactly what I had to offer.”
I still recommend this tactic to new writers, by the way. If the submission guidelines allow it, write the piece before you pitch it and let your writing say what your résumé can’t.
And then, when my resume could speak for itself, clients started contacting me directly. I got a permanent contributor position at The Billfold and began writing Ask a Freelancer. My byline started appearing in Boing Boing, Scratch magazine, Splitsider, and more. I even did some print magazine work for Wing World.
I also continued to take on copywriting work, as a way of both boosting my income and protecting my career for the future. The more freelancers are able to diversify their income, the more likely they are to have at least one income stream active at any given time.
So I would consider this year a solid success. I also think this year’s been pretty good for freelance writers as a whole. Online publications have always been after great content, but I felt like everyone really ramped up their game this year, for what I believe are few distinct reasons:
1. When Google Reader ended in July 2013, readers lost the capacity to passively view articles from publications they were subscribed to. Although some people stuck with RSS, the rest of us had two choices: either visit our favorite publications every day and refresh the page every hour or trust that the most interesting stories would come via social media. Guess which choice won out?
2. In December 2013, Facebook updated its News Feed to promote “high-quality articles,” so sites adjusted to put out content that was thoughtful, not just shareable. Everyone was competing side by side—The New York Times vs. The New Yorker vs. BuzzFeed vs. Upworthy—and a newer publication with talented writers had a legitimate shot to compete with established outlets.
3. People continued to use articles as seeds for social interaction. Even if a publication didn’t offer a comments section, readers were able to share their thoughts and start conversations on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr.
4. Because of the emphasis on social sharing, everyone started spending a lot more time reading articles online to be part of the conversation. I don’t have stats to back this up besides my own Facebook and Tumblr feeds, which are fully stocked with links to shared articles. It’s become the fashion to assume everybody has read the David Sedaris Fitbit piece or the Anne Helen Petersen Tinder piece, to reference what “everybody” has read in new articles, to write ripostes and rebuttals of other popular pieces, and to turn what could start out as one blog post into a huge, cross-Internet discussion.
All of this work needs smart, talented, quick-on-the-keyboard writers, and in 2014, it became clear—at least to me—that publications were willing to pay for that. Not all pubs are willing to pay as much as you’d get from, say, a $50-an-hour job, but some are, and writers can hustle through the smaller pieces to help support the ability to write the longer ones.
We’re also on a bit of an economic upswing right now. The “gig economy” is in vogue, and freelancing now banks on your resume and reputation as much as it does on your ability to type 1,000 words in an hour. The Freelancers Union states that 34 percent of American workers are freelancers, which makes sense—we’re coming off a stretch where permanent jobs were harder to come by, and many of us found we preferred freelancing to traditional jobs anyway.
Of course, some people are quick to suggest that this growth in freelancing gigs might not be so good for the individual freelancer. As Gabe Miano wrote for Forbes:
2015 will also be the year that freelancers experience stiffer competition than ever before. While the demand for freelancers is increasing, so are the number of people that are willingly considering alternatives to a traditional full-time jobs in favor of a gig-based lifestyle—from baby-boomers who aren’t ready to leave the workforce entirely to people of all ages who are simply attracted to the flexible lifestyle that freelancing offers. Many millennials have never even held a traditional job, deciding instead to go straight into freelancing after school.
And, as you know, it’s hard to find clients when you’re just starting . Sometimes it feels like the only jobs you can get are those $25-an-article gigs.
But I have faith in both myself and all of us freelancers out there because I have seen, first-hand, that companies and publications value good work. If you can do the hard part of proving to people that your work deserves attention—and that is the hard part—you can build your own career as a freelancer in this new and exciting economy.
Here’s to another amazing and successful year.
Nicole Dieker is very excited to see what happens in 2015. Until then, please continue to send your Ask a Freelancer questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.Image by Andy King